Could TV find a new Lincoln?…

FX has announced a new reality TV show that will be a contest for an average American to win the chance to run for President of the United States in 2004. My knee jerk reaction was abject horror. Then I got to thinking about it…

I remember getting seriously upset with pundit Jeff Greenfield during the 2000 presidential primaries after he made a remark about third-party candidates and the debates. Basically, he said the press does not owe them equal coverage and they do not deserve spots on the debates because they have no chance to win. I remember yelling at the TV: “That’s why they have no chance, you idiot!” Okay, so I was over-stating it (and I shouldn’t be name-calling). But the point is that there is more political potential out there than just the front-runners.

Readers of Rhetorica know that I abhor mixing entertainment with journalism and politics, so it is natural to assume that this proposed new show gets a big thumbs-down from me sight unseen. Maybe…but not so fast. There is at least one very interesting possibility here: That the general public will come to understand just how limited and undemocratic the party-based system of candidate selection is. It is possible this show might highlight that, at a time when party identification is hitting an all-time low, the two major parties completely control the selection process to the detriment of third-party candidates and other possible selection methods. Hmmmm…

The chances are much greater, however, that this show will turn out to be scholcky nonsense. Here’s a clue. R.J. Cutler, the documentary directory of “The War Room,” is working of the project. He said:

“It’s like a cross between ‘The War Room’ and ‘American Idol…We will be making available to every American who is qualified, by virtue of the Constitution, the opportunity to run for president.” Just as “American Idol” went searching for undiscovered musical talent, Cutler said ‘American Candidate’ will be on the hunt for untapped political and leadership skill. ‘We’re trying to see if there’s a young Abe Lincoln out there, somebody whose vision could turn on the public in an exciting way,’ he said.”

In my rhetoric classes, I